Savages You Can Count On

In 2007’s The Savages, Laura Linney turns in an Oscar-nominated performance of Kenneth Longergan’s Oscar-nominated screenplay about a sister whose tragic childhood scars her and her brother well into adultho–

Wait. What? That was 2000’s You Can Count On Me?

Oh, right. Sorry.

In The Savages, Laura Linney turns in an Oscar-nominated performance of Tamara Jenkin’s Oscar-nominated screenplay about a sister whose tragic childhood scars her and her brother well into adulthood.

Snark aside, the movies aren’t that close. In the older movie, Linney has adjusted pretty well and is sort of a rock for her brother, Mark Ruffalo, who is much less stable. About all she can do for him is be there.

In Savages, Linney and Hoffman are both maladjusted, with Linney somewhat more adrift, but neither able to grow up. You know, the first thing that needs to be pointed out is that the trailers make this out to be sort of whimsical. There are some humorous moments–especially punctuating what would otherwise be overly heavy-handed scenes–but this isn’t a movie with a lot of yuks.

In fact, I thought at first the movie was going to be a real slog. Linney’s character thrives on melodrama, and she’s happy to lie to get a reaction she wants. Hoffman’s character is flat–not his acting, but his character, I know some of you hate him, but I liked him in this–and dull, not given to open expressions of emotion, which in this case means his emotions emerge in weird ways.

When the movie starts, their father, played by Philip Bosco, is being kicked from his house, apparently as his dementia worsens. Although they haven’t talked to him in a long time, as his family, the responsibility of taking care of him falls to them. The back story, not terribly fleshed out, is that he was abusive and their mother simply ran off. Somehow they survived and while they must have relied on each other–they talked with each other even though they haven’t talked to their father in 20 yers–they’re not exactly warm to each other.

Anyway, it’s a (perhaps not so) curious thing. They are likable, even with their flaws. I’m not sure, for example, in that situation, whether I would feel any particular obligation to take care of an abusive parent. But they never challenge it for a second. Linney’s character even feels guilty about the quality of the home (which is functional but not wonderful).

You realize pretty soon that this isn’t going to be a “reconcile with Dad” movie (a la Tim Burton). Dad’s a MacGuffin. He seems to have no awareness of his past sins. (It is suggested at one point that his father was abusive, but this isn’t really a cathartic thing.) He’s basically there so that his kids can figure out how to let go of the past.

It’s an indie movie, so there’s no big “happily ever after,” but there’s a nice bit of hope. As contrasted with You Can Count On Me, where you know the brother’s going to be a screw-up for the rest of his life, in this film, you have reason to believe that the two will get past a least some of their dysfunction.

This movie’s been floating around for three months now and probably isn’t going to be released widely (can it really have wide appeal?) but it’ll be on DVD within two months, I’ve heard. Hollywood’s put me into this quandary, though: They’re not really turning out the quality fluff these days. I love independent and foreign films but come on: A guy’s got to have desert, too!

Anyway, Laura Linney kicked ass as the CIA chief in Breach. Enough of the dysfunctional sisters, I say!

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